AEGEE mem­bers love to trav­el. The math is sim­ple: The cheap­er you can go, the more events you can vis­it. And hitch­hik­ing is for free. How­ev­er, mon­ey is not the main moti­va­tion for many AEGEE hitch­hik­ers. It’s also the spir­it of free­dom and adven­ture that many peo­ple love. One of them is Mateusz Gier­czak, for­mer Pres­i­dent of AEGEE-Kraków.

Gold­en Times: When and between which cities did you hitch­hike for the first time in your life?
Mateusz Gier­czak: It was in March 2014, a few months after I joined AEGEE. Three oth­er AEGEEans and I were a bit tip­sy after our week­ly meet­ing in Kraków and in the mid­dle of the night, we decid­ed to hitch­hike on the spot — to Berlin.

GT: Impres­sive! To which AEGEE event did you hitch­hike for the first time?
Mateusz: It was in April 2014. We were going with Kuba Tomaszews­ki to Ago­ra Patra. It took us nine days, but we vis­it­ed Budapest, Bel­grade, Thes­sa­loni­ki and Mete­o­ra on our way. So let’s say we spent five days on the road and made almost 2000 kilo­me­tres!

Mateusz Gier­czak became a leg­end as Pres­i­dent of AEGEE-Kraków.

GT: How many times have you hitch­hiked so far with AEGEE?
Mateusz (smiles): It’s hard to cal­cu­late. Some­thing between four and eight times, but from that time I start­ed hitch­hik­ing also beyond AEGEE. I was count­ing that few months ago and I made around 15,000 kilo­me­tres since that time and met more than 100 kind dri­vers.

GT: Why do you hitch­hike?
Mateusz: There are three rea­sons. The first is adven­ture, because it’s incred­i­ble what crazy sit­u­a­tions you can get into while hitch­hik­ing. You can ride in a bus with a music band from Pécs or in the open cart in the Bosn­ian moun­tains. You can sleep in a tent — or with­out — in the mid­dle of nowhere or on the play­ground near to the exit road from Vien­na. It’s total free­dom. You can go wher­ev­er and when­ev­er you want and think only about the most impor­tant things: how to sur­vive and get from one place to anoth­er.

Hitch­hik­ing has always been pop­u­lar among many AEGEE mem­bers — also back in 1995.

GT: What’s the sec­ond rea­son?
Mateusz: The peo­ple you meet. Dur­ing such trav­els you don’t have a pro­fes­sion­al guide who will tell you things you can find in any book about Ger­man or Ser­bian his­to­ry. Instead of that you get plen­ty of dif­fer­ent opin­ions and per­spec­tives of dri­vers who take you, on top­ics that you are real­ly inter­est­ed in. And you nev­er know, maybe you meet some friend of you on the way, like we did at 3 a.m. in the cen­tre of Bel­grade or on the main sta­tion in Venice. It is incred­i­ble how many coin­ci­dences hap­pen dur­ing hitch­hik­ing.

GT: What’s the third rea­son?
Mateusz: The last and the least is of course mon­ey. If you are stu­dent, prob­a­bly you are not the rich­est per­son in the world. And tick­ets can cost a for­tune. I know a lot of peo­ple who don’t trav­el, because they think they don’t have mon­ey for it. I thought the same five years ago. Two years lat­er I spent one month hitch­hik­ing around the Balka­ns. The cost? 150 Euros. Seri­ous­ly.

Mateusz Gierczak’s most spec­tac­u­lar trip led him to Mete­o­ra in greece.


GT: What’s the most inter­est­ing sto­ry you can tell about your AEGEE hitch­hik­ing adven­tures?
Mateusz: I had real­ly many of them, but one I con­sid­er as most incred­i­ble. It was dur­ing that trip to Patra in 2014. Around 48 hours before the Open­ing Cer­e­mo­ny of Ago­ra Patra, Kuba and I arrived to Thes­sa­loni­ki. We did not have such a long road ahead, only 470 kilo­me­tres to go, but next day we want­ed to vis­it the Mete­o­ra monas­ter­ies. So we decid­ed to wake up at 6 a.m. and go direct­ly to the exit route, to be there at 9 a.m. We found a host in Patra, who was one of the organ­is­ers of the pre-event in Thes­sa­loni­ki, so we went for a par­ty with him. We came back at 5 a.m. When we final­ly got to the high­way it was 1 p.m.
We just stepped on the high­way with our writ­ten sign, held above our heads. After 15 sec­onds a Turk­ish truck dri­ver stopped, who didn’t under­stand too much but knew the name of the city. We were super hap­py! And tired… So after five min­utes we fell asleep. We woke up, looked on the map and noticed that one minute ago we missed our high­way exit! We jumped off 10 kilo­me­tres fur­ther and realised that we were in the mid­dle of moun­tains. It was windy, cold and start­ed rain­ing. What is more, the traf­fic was ter­ri­ble — only max­i­mum three cars per minute in our direc­tion. I wrote „10 km” on the card­board and begged dri­vers to stop — after five min­utes, when it start­ed rain­ing, I even fell on my knees. Kuba ran to the near­est build­ing, ask­ing any­one to give us a ride of 10 kilo­me­tres for mon­ey. In that moment a car stopped. Renault Kan­goo — with­out any seats in the back, only one in the front. I asked if I can go with my friend if he sits on the floor in the back. The dri­ver agreed, but asked: “Where is he?” He saw him 300 meters away from the high­way.
„Oh no, I don’t have time to wait for him”
„Please, I beg you, we’re gonna die here! Just wait few sec­onds!”
My face was super seri­ous so he agreed. Kuba saw us and I haven’t seen him any time lat­er run­ning so fast. We were saved. But still it was around 4 p.m. and we hadn’t even reached Mete­o­ra and the monas­ter­ies where open only till 6 p.m.

Hitch­hik­ers are not wel­come every­where.

GT: Oh no… so what hap­pened next?
Mateusz: After a few min­utes talk­ing, it turned out that our dri­ver was going direct­ly through Kalam­ba­ka — the city we want­ed to reach! We were so lucky! We arrived there, near to some square just after 5 p.m. It was too late so we want­ed only to see the monas­ter­ies, even from the out­side. But we need­ed to find any camp­ing there before, where we could rent a tent as well — yeah, we didn’t have it… We went to the square and want­ed to ask peo­ple about that. There was a Ger­man guy, who noticed us and asked if he can help us. It turned out that he was here on the way for hol­i­days with his Bul­gar­i­an girl­friend and her sis­ter and they were also look­ing for a camp­ing. They had a car so they took as to the near­est camp­ing.
What hap­pened when we were wait­ing for the camp­ing staff? He did not only tell us that they could lend us one of their tents because they had two of them. He said more. But let me quote that con­ver­sa­tion:
Me: So where do you go next?
Kli­ment: We plan to vis­it the monas­ter­ies tomor­row and the next day we go to the island Zakyn­thos.
Me: Ah, the island. So which way do you go there?
Kli­ment: We go through Ioan­ni­na, Ambrakia, Patra and Var­da.
Me: Wait, wait. You said „Patra”? Are you going to Patra?
Kli­ment: Yeah.
Me: The event where we are going to is in Patra… Can you maybe give us a lift, some­where on that road?
Kli­ment looked back to his girl­friend, who was sit­ting squeezed between her sis­ter and Kuba. I saw the moment of doubt on her face.
Kli­ment: Yeah, sure, we can get you to Patra…

Also many Dutch mem­bers like to go hitch­hik­ing and even organ­ise hitch­hik­ing com­pe­ti­tions.

GT: Amaz­ing!
Mateusz: Can you imag­ine? Even though we over­slept twice dur­ing that day, we had so much luck to be three times in the right place, in the right time and meet the right peo­ple. That’s why I love hitch­hik­ing. We ate din­ner togeth­er, tried some spe­cial­i­ties from Bul­gar­ia, drank some alco­hol. Next day, we vis­it­ed three incred­i­ble monas­ter­ies with­out rush­ing and on the after­noon depart­ed to Patra. At 10 p.m. we got off the car, just in the front of our gym. It was just incred­i­ble. Cur­tains. Thank you for read­ing it!

One of many AEGEE hitch­hik­ers: Daniel Fon­se­ca Pilzeck­er.

GT: Do you have a favourite hitch­hik­ing part­ner — and why?
Mateusz: Actu­al­ly not, but when I am hitch­hik­ing with my girl­friend, we have quite good results. We haven’t wait­ed longer than 20 or 30 min­utes till now.

GT: Where you ever scared or did you feel uncom­fort­able dur­ing hitch­hik­ing?
Mateusz: Once. My friend and I were going from Croa­t­ia through Slove­nia to Hun­gary. We caught a truck — but of course there is only one place to sit there, so we sug­gest­ed, one of us will cross the bor­der on foot. The dri­ver said three times that there would be no prob­lem, cause he knows offi­cers there. Of course he got a fine and we had to get off. He told us he will wait for us on the oth­er side of the bor­der but he didn’t. So we had to go around 10 kilo­me­tres on foot. But that’s all actu­al­ly.

Always have signs wih you!

GT: What’s your best prac­ti­cal advice towards peo­ple who nev­er hitch­hiked before and would like to try?
Mateusz: Always have a sign with the writ­ten name of the city, smile and try to look like a trust­wor­thy per­son. Remem­ber that a dri­ver has only a few sec­onds when he notices you, to trust you and stop. Check also!

GT: Any­thing you would like to add?
Mateusz: Do it. Real­ly. There is noth­ing to be scared of and there are hun­dreds of adven­tures to expe­ri­ence.


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